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Absent Federal Action, Communities and Corporations Commit to Renewables

Policy Analysis
Thursday, May 3, 2018

While the Trump administration is promoting coal, a dirty and dangerous fossil fuel headed for the scrap heap of history, a growing number of communities and companies across the nation are embracing a future powered by clean, safe, renewable energy.

According to the Sierra Club’s “Ready for 100” campaign, 135 cities have adopted resolutions to work toward supplying all of their electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind power. Almost 200 mayors have pledged to move their cities toward a sustainable, renewable future.  These announcements and policies are occurring in cities large and small: Recently, New York City, Los Angeles and Minneapolis joined the ranks of the 100 percent renewables club. 

Why? The reasons go beyond the environmental and health benefits of renewables.

In Minneapolis, Twin Cities Business Magazine reported that city council members who backed the renewables pledge pointed to hostility toward sustainable development at the federal level and uncertainty at the state level. They said they believe that going 100 percent renewable will create jobs. They also said it will benefit the low-income communities they fear are being left behind in the renewables revolution.

“An effective way to make sure that energy remains affordable and that our transition to clean energy meets the needs of those most marginalized and historically impacted by pollution is persistent, intentional community engagement from a wide range of people,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey told the magazine.

Some communities also want to take control of their energy grids from utilities that often value profit above sustainability. In Decorah, Iowa, citizens pushed for a referendum to have the town investigate taking over the electricity distribution system.

In an interview with Radio Iowa, local activist Emily Neal said the takeover would let the town of about 8,000 “control our energy future . . . [and] save our community millions of dollars every year.”

In the private sector, big corporations and small companies are also hopping on the renewables bandwagon.

The Rocky Mountain Institute reported that in the last five years, corporations purchased more than 10,000 megawatts of wind and solar power to supply their energy needs – enough to power over 1 million average homes.  Half of Fortune 500 companies, including a large majority of the 100 largest, have announced renewable energy goals. Most are information technology firms, followed by telecoms companies. 

Among the big-name companies that have bought enough renewable energy to meet the majority of their needs are Apple, Google, Microsoft, General Motors, Starbucks, Walmart, Facebook and Budweiser. The biggest buyers this year are AT&T, Walmart, Microsoft, Facebook and Alcoa, according to Bloomberg.

Bloomberg also reported that smaller companies are getting in on the act. Deals for renewable energy are being structured so that smaller companies can buy power from the same renewables project as large corporations. It’s similar to a shopping center including both large anchor tenants and smaller shops.

The World Resources Institute has estimated that corporate purchases will reach 53 million megawatt-hours per year by 2020. This is more electricity than is produced in 19 states and nearly as much as Iowa alone, according to the Energy Information Administration.

We are witnessing a revolt against politicians, regulators and utilities who deny climate change; who deny their constituents the cost and health benefits of renewable energy; and who choose to live in the past rather than work toward the future. Local governments, their citizens and companies are finding ways to out-maneuver these reactionary forces to bring about changes that can foster climate stability, economic opportunity, environmental and public health benefits, and social justice.

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